Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Stop, Hey, What's That Sound?

Everybody look
what's going down.

The storms that tore through the DC area were the perfect portents for the rest of this week.

I've tried, at times, to understand the rabid pro-war side. I still don't get it.

In November 2005 the Army claimed that they were no longer calling people up off of Inactive Ready Reserve.

For those not aware, IRR is like the reserve for the Reserve. When you sign a military contract, it's typically for four years Active duty and four years IRR.

When they pull people off IRR, it means that the military is overstressed and needs to augment its forces to minimize deployments. They first began calling up IRR in 2004.

My brother-in-law had received notice that he would be activated. We couldn't figure out why they would need him. He was Motor T - he repaired and drove vehicles. That kind of job doesn't usually have shortfalls that would require pulling people off IRR.

My brother-in-law was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He's well over Army weight limits. He has a one-year-old son, my nephew, Thomas. He and my sister work opposite schedules so that someone can be at home with Thomas; They can't afford child care.

He appealed his orders.

They rejected his appeal. He leaves on July 30. My sister has to quit her job so she can stay at home with Thomas. And worry.

Tell me: When you send an emotionally-unstable, out-of-shape soldier into harm's way, tear him away from the life he was building after the Army and send him to Iraq to kill or die, how does that help anyone?

Tell me: How bad is it that the Army has to call up the IRR?

Tell me: Why can't I find any reference to continued IRR callbacks from the Pentagon or on any news sites?

Tell me: Is this what it looks like when the mission is accomplished?

This is what happens when a leader of our nation can't admit his own errors.

I'm beyond angry at this point.

And to add to that, my grandmother-in-law has been diagnosed with a tumor in her lung. They're pretty sure it's benign, but they want to do treatment anyway. At her age (93 years old), any procedure is bound to be risky.

This has been one ugly week.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

This Title Was Rejected

Prey takes place
on a giant organic spaceship, an Omicron with guts, so it's only fitting that the gameplay is cobbled together as well.

The living ship motif was explored in System Shock II, where we saw doors that opened and closed like sphincters and various meaty portions undergoing peristalsis like the background in a Tool video.

The demo leads you through a typically interminable opening sequence, the same way indie films will insist on showing the credits for anyone even remotely connected to the movie. It begins in a bar; That's the scene. Then the player-character is beamed aboard an alien ship along with his girlfriend, his grandfather and everything else, maybe everything else on Earth.

The main character has a name, but he may as well be Duke Nukem with a deflavored Native American mythology to dress up what becomes a typical revenge-rescue-rampage shooter.

The ship hums and whirrs and carries people along assembly lines similar to the Citadel in Half-Life 2. Grandfather ends up on the wrong line, or rather, the right line for the plot. He's speared by a grisly spearing machine and then flattened into a red smear. For what purpose? Raw materials, maybe. Dramatic effect, definitely.

Player-character is visited by Grandfather in a waking hallucination where the mechanics of the spirit-world are explained. Throw an ectoplasmic avatar outside the body and use a special bow for sniping. A contrivance, but it adds enough variety to demand a modicum of tactical planning.

Meanwhile, the girlfriend is whisked along further into the ship, mercifully spared the ginsu treatment. For now. She becomes the carrot on the stick, always just out of reach, pleading with the player to get on with it already.

At every turn the designers of the demo seek to defeat any stable notion of space. This plunges the player into a constant state of helplessness as to orientation or even objective. Gravity switches turn rooms into topsy-turvy puzzle boxes. Portals slash one-way holes through geometry, remixing the usual linearity of tunnel crawls.

Enemies are unremarkable, footsoldiers with the modern equivalent of palette-swaps -- more facial abscesses or a different weapon or a pronounced hunch. There is mystery, too, a possessing specter toying with captive humans and a stranger's voice helping the player-character with explication and aid-from-afar.

Weapon design practices both extremism and economy. Each weapon is powerful and each fulfills a specific niche. The balance is especially noticeable in multiplayer. The basic gun, which appears to fire glowing red-hot rebar bits, doubles duty as a sniper rifle. The acid gun can fire several weak bursts that do close-in damage or a larger area blast that has a longer reload time. Then there is a multipurpose gun that can be charged with different types of ammo -- magma and ice and some kind of golden beam.

The final game could shape up to be inventive and continually disarming, living up to the potential promised by the Doom III engine, provided the giddy sense of momentum can be maintained.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Taming Vectors

I tried out
Inkscape, an Open Source Scalable Vector Graphics editor.

I'm sure people experienced with vector graphics software will have no problem at all. Newbies (like me) have a pretty steep learning curve ahead of them.

This online guide has a few step-by-step tutorials.

As a test, I made a Johnny Pi icon:


Not sure where that might come in handy, but I'm happy with it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Try to Take Over the World

I downloaded
the latest iteration of Google Earth.

It fulfilled one of those fading childhood desires; Now I can experience the giddy rush of feeling like a supervillain as I scan the globe for targets and pinpoint coordinates.

If I could figure out how to hook it up to voice commands that would be totally boss.

"Pan left."



There are some sweet upgrades to this version, including 3-models.

The utility of this kind of simulation stretches my imagination. I'm not sure exactly what it's capable of at the moment, but I'd like to see a shared database of memory/photos. You could pinpoint a street corner and see all the different memories in a certain vicinity.

It would eventually become a many-dimensional map - time and memory and movement. Lay down a multicolor route map of your travels. Photos bud from the route, nodes on the path. See how many people share your path.

Make future promises to meet - another dimension. Lay out Temporary Autonomous Zones and mark their passings (defeating the purpose, but whatever).

Cities can use this for planning. Transportation officials should spend time studying the topology. Show food supplies - let us track how much goes to waste in this world of plenty.

Mark out the dwindling rainforest. Every so often stream real-time footage of its destruction. Do the same with the ice caps. Or show the ozone layer with its holes.

Highlight areas ravaged by natural disasters and link up with charities serving those areas.

Sync it up with demographics. View worldwide crime. Or literacy.

Grab a bit of Fuller's dream.

Of course, there are still limits on the resolution of certain areas, which I think is completely bogus. Open it up.

Let us all see.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Last Re-Sort

I spent a good portion
of the weekend attempting to re-organize my bookmarks.

I have a account, but I've found it almost too austere and utilitarian. That's right, it's simply designed and useful. That's why I hate it. So much of its functionality is hidden from users - how do I import my bookmarks? Can I have multiple word tags? Didn't see any obvious help available. Gave up solely because I demand instant gratification.

Ma.gnolia, on the other hand, creates a pretty page, but there's far too much whitespace. The space between bookmarks couldn't be reduced. Big and elegant and ugly.

I settled on Blinklist. These options drew me in: Multiple-word tags. Obvious way of importing bookmarks from browsers/other sites. Fairly sleek, easily-modified tags.

There are problems, however. My first attempt at importing my Firefox bookmarks was a flop. I got about half of them into my account. Then I had to edit the .html file, trim out what I already imported and re-import the rest. Even after that, I still suspect that not everything made it.

The second major problem is hopefully just a result of growing pains (though it could be a Firefox issue). Navigating my bookmarks would yield strange behaviors. Certain bookmarks would refuse to open up their info for editing; I'd have to open up the site in a new page, delete the old bookmark and re-Blink the site. Sometimes deleting pages would cause a fairly substantial delay or even freezing.

Then there's this: I'd open up my tag list, then choose a list I wanted to clean up. I'd get through the first page, then select to navigate to the next page and I'd get an error. Re-selecting that same tag would yield more links than were showing up previously. Add to that some random SQL errors.

I know, I've totally convinced you to try out a buggy new site when a stable solution already exists.

But it seems to work for me.

Now I just need to figure out how it's useful.

Sure, bookmarks anywhere, woohoo. Not really an issue; I rarely find a need to access bookmarks away from home. I suppose if I lose my data it will be helpful. So it's bookmark insurance.

As a bookmarking tool, however, it's useful on the way in but not the way out. That is, the ability to add a link, tag it and describe it is great if you take the time to do it while you surf.

But from the other direction it's not particularly useful. First off, it's a whole big page. It needs to be a small, hiding sidebar.

Also, the tags can be great, but I like folders, too. Folders allow me to spatially navigate my links. Tags force me to try and remember how I labeled the links.

That's the state of my organization. My actual bookmarks tag is a disorganized mess filled with broken links. My blinklist is filled and tagged and almost worthless to me.

I am complete.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Scratch Your Niche

Sometimes you just feel
like trying out a game that's not a game.

Such was my mood when firing up Ship Simulator 2006.

It's a good, solid . . . sim. Kind of. I don't know spit about driving ships, but I'm pretty certain this product would be better described as arcadey. Unless, perhaps, they make things more complex as you progress through the different scenarios.

I was able to pick up the controls without even looking for help, which is good because there was no automatic offer to help me learn the controls.

You throttle. You move the rudder. Watch your wake trail behind your vehicle. Nod off. Throttle back, maneuver near a drowning swimmer.

I like that I felt no pressure whatsoever to do anything. You can take and deal damage, but there's really no penalty - maybe once your ship takes a certain amount you have to start over. I don't know. That's not the point.

You take control of a boat. Combined with a glass of Bailey's over ice, this is a good way to get me prepped for sleep. I don't mean any of this to be overly critical. Some people might find the game to be an insult.

The product was clear in its intentions. I bear it no ill will.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bust It

I've mentioned it before
, and I thought about it again after reading Chris Crawford's interview, but trying to get the game industry to be more like Hollywood is not the best tactic; I'm not even sure it makes sense. Not yet, at least.

And for a simple reason. The tools used to make movies are easy and they get much, much easier every year.

I went to my nephew's christening on Sunday and was asked to film it. I had to learn four things. Open the view screen. Take off the lens cap. Turn the camera on. Press the red record button. That was it.

There are ways of making that process much more complex and costly.

But as of now, there is no way to make game development anywhere even close to that simple. Not without severely restricting the kind of game possible a la RPG Maker.


And if anybody out there likes hip-hop, you should check out Del tha Funky Homosapien's song Proto-Culture featuring Khaos Unique. The song's a paean to the golden age of gaming and even touches on the Playstation era. Here's a sample of the lyrics:

Del: I play games by Capcom with a power glove strapped on
On any platform, I don't spend my dough on Phat Farm
Video games, I got many to play
Before my life expires; fufill my desires

KU: Mastering your hardest boss
Shattering all stars across
Ain't hard to cross the finish line
Floatin' on Daytona
Wex, Gex or Klonoa, we get '‘em all at cost
RPG, Platform we transform like Macross

You might know Del better as a voice on two Gorillaz songs, "Clint Eastwood" and "Rock the House." Or maybe you know him as Deltron 3030, a name he explains in this interview:

"I got the idea from 'Megaman X' [the video game] because the regular 'Megaman' was kind of round, cartoony. They souped him up to 'Megaman X' and made him futuristic. I always thought that was a dope idea."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Crawdaddy

It's just so easy to harsh
on Chris Crawford these days.

I enjoy his ruminations on game and interactive drama theory, but it's tough to see him as more than just a wanker spitting the same tired flow for the last fifteen years without producing results. If the Storytron (nee Erasmatron) had a greater profile in the gaming community at large it would be a bigger joke than Duke Nukem Forever.

Well, maybe that's a little too harsh. Crawford is great at organizing abstract concepts and discussing theory, it's just that after awhile it starts to look like yet another RPGnet post about narratology-vs-ludology.

But then again, Crawford gives an interview and says shit like this:

"I haven't even seen any new ideas pop up. The industry is so completely inbred that the people working in it aren't even capable of coming up with new ideas anymore. I was appalled, for example, at the recent GDC. I looked over the games at the Independent Games Festival and they all looked completely derivative to me. Just copies of the same ideas being recycled. I didn't see anything I'd call innovative, and this was from people not even interested in doing anything . . . in making money. It was just straight amateurs trying to be innovative and even they couldn't be innovative."

First off, we don't know his definition of 'innovative'; That word is instantly suspect to me anyway. When that word is thrown out like some kind of gaming El Dorado it makes me gag a little.

Then he doesn't seem to realize that sometimes indie developers work on familiar designs because certain tropes are proven concepts and can lead to greater exposure or the available programming tools don't always allow large amounts of experimentation or the programmers aren't yet skilled enough and need to cut their teeth.

I didn't learn how to play guitar by putting money into a big concert and walking onstage and attempting to play free jazz. I worked on small, familiar songs, eventually learning how to improvise and rearrange until I got to a certain level of competence.

Things were so much better back when things were so much better:

"During the 80s there was a lot of experimentation, a lot of new ideas being tried (many of them really bad) but there was at least experimentation. Now we don't see any experimentation whatsoever."

No. Experimentation. Whatsoever. That's some moxie right there.

This sounds like the lament of a guy who goes to the gaming store, sees the new DnD rulebook and starts bitching that tabletop RPGs haven't changed since the 70s, while completely ignoring something like, say, Dogs in the Vineyard.

And even then, if you pointed out some of the great, creative indie RPGs available he'd still complain that they use dice or coin tosses or some kind of resolution mechanic while ignoring the other elements that might make such games 'innovative.'

For those of us following Chris Bateman's excellent discussion of structural/play specifications it seems clear that most games have many elements in common, especially where their verbs are concerned. Am I supposed to believe that this was not the case in the 1980s?

Then Crawford talks about appealing to the general public and how important it is and how the game industry is not appealing, and then dismisses Nintendo's attempt to appeal to everyone, and then explains that appealing to the general public is just reshuffling and devoid of new ideas.

According to the ESA, fifty-percent of all Americans play video games. I think those numbers show that video games are pretty appealing but, yes, I'll agree that fifty percent is not everyone.

The rest of the interview doesn't clarify what Crawford is considering when he looks for innovation. Hardware? Software? Interface? Controllers? Theme? Art design?

I suspect that whatever his focus, he's wrong wrong wrong.

Just a hunch.


The second half of the interview covers Crawford's favorite subject: Storytronics.

I won't criticize him for bragging. It's his baby.

Now let me throw it out with the bathwater.

After a good summary of verbs and their role in games, Crawford says:

"So you end up mapping a lot of verbs into a kind of spatial reasoning, and that in turn keeps the verb count low and game designers like that, game players like that. The problem is, with social interaction, you just can't get away with a tiny verb set, you need hundreds of verbs for social interaction."

That's not a bad breakdown, but it doesn't really make his case. He admits that game players like low verb counts. I wouldn't use that as a strict rule, but I think it bears out in a large number of cases. But why, then, bother with his system? It has a huge number of verbs.

And that's where Crawford hasn't made his case. What's my interest in this technology?

A few points I pulled from the interview:

1. Storyworlds are not games.
"Well, they're not games. We call them Storyworlds, because the emphasis is on drama, and it's so different from games it's kind of misleading to refer to them with that terminology, because they feel very different from that in play."

2. The tech will be useless to traditional game developers.
"We've been building this thing to be very flexible and very powerful, but we have not built it as a library. It has no hook that you can just plug it into another game."

3. Interactive storytelling will not appeal to very many people.
"Interactive storytelling appeals to a very different kind of audience. The kind of people who like games will likely not enjoy interactive storytelling."

4. Chris Crawford has been to Bizarro-Hollywood.
"There's an awful lot of Hollywood money that goes to supporting oddball ideas, because Hollywood has learned the hard way that entertainment is a high risk business that requires innovation." And it goes on. Someone else can fisk this section, my brain hurts.

So, again, I ask, "What is my interest in Storytronics, other than the technophile aspect?"

There's nothing emotional in Crawford's explanations. Which is strange, because he's advocating a system reliant on dramatic interaction between actors. I have never gotten a feeling for what it would be like to play/navigate/traverse/whatever a Storyworld. Actors, verbs, this emotion linked to this actor with this weight, and so on, but what do I do?

It's like he's talking about Magic: The Gathering, but his only focus is on the mechanics of the cards. Lands and creatures and tap and untap and upkeep, the framework but none of the flavor. And maybe that would be okay in a card game (though I would argue that Magic became as popular as it did in part because it had a compelling, unified theme) but doesn't sound compelling or interesting.

Why does Crawford always sound angry, but never passionate?

Storytronics, the way Crawford describes it, sounds like a personality simulator without any personality.

Crawford sets up Storytronics as "interactive storytelling" to differentiate it from gaming, which honestly only supports the notion that he is completely out of touch with the gaming industry. The way he tells it, interactive storytelling is the wave of the future and taking off and completely creative -- and none of these developments are related in any way to the history of videogames or their rising popularity.

So we have an incredibly complex interactive narrative that will not appeal to gamers (i.e., at least fifty-percent of Americans) and will, for some reason, be Hollywood's choice for future development dollars even though it is unproven and cannot be integrated into the current game development model.

That's one hell of a sales pitch.


At this point I've run out of vitriol, so I'll offer some advice to Mr. Crawford.

In the future, get King Lud IC to explain your technology. He makes it sound much more interesting and at least somewhat useful.

And he doesn't need to disparage the entire video game industry to do it.

On that note, I'll let El-P play The Crawster out the door (picture Will Wright spitting these lines - or Greg Costikyan):

"Back when the independent scene remained faceless
We were the only crew who promised your ass we'd take it
Mold it, shape it, living outside the matrix
Hold it, make it, more than miniature major labels
Hold it sacred, living it for the culture
Told ya plainly, protected it from the vultures
That's why I always get respect from true soldiers
While half of the critics claim it every year: "Hip hop's over."
FUCK YOU, hip hop just started
It's funny how the most nostalgic cats are the ones who were never part of it
But true veterans'll give dap to those who started it
Then humbly move the fuck on than come with that new retarded shit
New slang, new thought, new sound
Whose heart you thought you had?
You clown, you don't, you drown
I won't dumb it down, I'm dumbing now for these rounds
I'm a live motherfucker plus I'm gunning for clowns
You're mine motherfucker, don't be coming for pounds
So you can break out of that invisible box, you're not down
My favorite ones are the ones who started out young rappin 'bout
Comic books, spaceships, and Obi-Quan one
And even though they were soft they had fun
But they couldn't break out the frame of the town they came from
Some of these faggots used to send me their demos
I'm keeping their puppy styles in the Company Flow kennels
But since they had no identity from the start
They started to resent the scene when they couldn't become a part
They've been failing for years and call themselves Vets, that's bold
Motherfucker, you're not a Vet you're just old
I'll slap the shit out of you to continue my nerve racket
Making this money fist over fist, fuck what you heard
Jukie cats talk about boom bap and golden ages
Patting themselves on the back for making that new outdated shit
I've been putting out vinyl since '93 and never looked back once
At ya'll trying to chase me
You don't innovate because you can't innovate
It's not a choice despite what you might tell your boys
Keep your identity crisis under the table
I always knew who I was and I'll always be more famous . . ."

Sunday, June 11, 2006


OK, now talk of the Left Behind game
is bouncing around the Internet like a quarter in a dryer. It's absolutely great how videogames get the most attention once people can complain about them politically or socially (snark intended).

There is a whole series on Talk 2 Action that must be read. There are good points and bad points.

Consider this quote: "One thing many gamers will likely find disturbing about Left Behind, though, is the black-and-white polarization of good and evil portrayed. The faithful are good, and the undecided are (decidedly) bad or evil. The only way to accomplish anything positive in the game is to 'convert' nonbelievers into faithful believers, and the only alternative to this is outright killing them."

This kind of statement is, no way around it, blindingly stupid.

Ok, maybe I don't know gamers, but the black-and-white polarization of good and evil is bread-and-fucking-butter to videogame developers. Did anyone playing Command and Conquer ever doubt, for a second, that Nod was an eeeevil terrorist organization, even when controlling them against other players?

Videogames, like comicbooks, are heavy-handed about their morality. Even in a game like Manhunt, your actions are no less reprehensible simply because, for the game's sake, they are billed as necessary to survival (and if I were put into a Manhunt situation, I can guarantee I would not be a bodhisattva - regrettably).

We're lucky if we get a videogame with even a slight bit of grey area. Even subtler fare like KOTOR has the two extremes.

Good and evil presented in a stark manner within a videogame? Yawn.


And here's where I end up . . . partly agreeing with Right On Games. Noooooo!!

A quote: "And did you notice how the writer slyly uses the characterization "children's game"? This is precisely the kind of smear that gets the majority of videogame players -- who are mostly in their 20s and 30s -- so angry. If I started calling Grand Theft Auto a "children's game", the GamePolitics people would be all over me for failing to note the M or AO ratings that the Grand Theft Auto games have earned."

That's fair, and absolutely correct. There is no way the Left Behind game should get anything less than an M.

But then Right On takes note that the Left Behind game is going for a T or an E rating. E for Everyone? See, Right On trusts that the Dominionist authoritarians behind a violent millenial series of superstitious fiction wouldn't "put blatant violence, even if it is against sinners, directly in the hands of a six year old."

Sure they wouldn't. I'm gonna call bullshit on that. The makers of the game are there to make money. Witness the huge market for their world-ending cream dream. It's Armageddon porn, sequel after sequel churned out to make money. They even doubled up and released the Left Behind: The Kids novels, aimed directly at children.

Right On attempts to defend the game by way of moral equivalence. You see, a game that depicts what a certain sect encourages as proper behavior (I would say in case of Rapture, but who knows whether they'll wait?) as being completely equal to every other violent game regardless of context. Rockstar is no different from a church, you see? Rockstar obviously wants you to commit violence (despite not advocating it in any manner), which makes Christians preaching violence okay.

In other words, there is no difference whatsoever between direct advocacy of a position and presenting a narrative without advocacy.

Not even saying "praise the lord" as you blow away unbelievers causes Right On to bat an eyelash. That's just "how those who love the Lord Jesus will behave after the Rapture." I remember not too long ago, when the same author derided Gun's use of the Lord's Prayer in an ad (as if the Wild West weren't full of Christians justifying their horrid actions in any way possible).

And that's where your brain should short-circuit.


Now to offer some mild defense of Left Behind the game.

I know this will be cold comfort, but from a game design standpoint, the inclusion of the 'convert' action gives more choice than most videogames, especially RTSes. Sure, Starcraft, et. al., often have a special move that allows you to bribe/mind-control enemy troops, but that's hardly the same thing.

It's also interesting that they allow players to take control of the other side. An odd choice. I can only hope that Jack Chick will hear of it and draw a laughably insane comic where a child plays the side of the Antichrist in Left Behind and is brainwashed and becomes a baby-eating atheist and is damned for all eternity to the most stereotypical Hell ever.


Reading the talkleft piece, I was going 'yes. mm-hmm. yes.' Until going 'no. uh-uh. nope.'

The videogame Left Behind isn't telling people anything -- it's the people behind it who are maintaining the mighty propaganda machine spinning this claptrap.

The game is only a transmitter - and it isn't going to make your child likely to act on its messages, not unless they fit into the way your child is raised. The only way these kinds of messages indoctrinate anybody is if they're not challenged and rejected.

Try reading slacktivist's take on the first Left Behind book (an ongoing series) for the perfect way to answer stupid propaganda.


The game's bigoted. So what? So is much of Christian thought.

In other words, the real story in this isn't the videogame. The real story is the people behind it and what they are doing, the actual, real-world ways in which they are attempting to make their eliminationist fantasy, reflected in the game (and comics, and books, and movies), come true.

And the talkleft piece does a good job of delving into that side of things. For that, I salute them.

But it's still a bit difficult to read a piece about videogames coming from a group which gets so much about them wrong. That, and the obvious deference religion gets in our society which prevents so much direct criticism. They spend an inordinate amount of time trying to show how the Left Behind game runs contrary to Christianity, by playing the "no true Christian" game.

You see, no true Christian could be violent, even if a self-identified Christian advocates or practices violence. Rubbish.

The Bible is violent. There are things in there that would make Phantasmagoria look tame. Religion is great at providing internal justifications of violence. So why is it so surprising to see a Christian game which revels in violence against unbelievers?

Any answers?


"In the backwash of Fennario
The black and bloody mire
The Dire Wolf collects his due
while the boys sing round the fire

Don't murder me
I beg of you don't murder me
don't murder me . . ."
-Dire Wolf, The Grateful Dead (lyrics by Robert Hunter)

I'm filled with tremendous anxiety, for on this Round Table must I contemplate the Reaper.

Videogames have been my chief tool for combating the gulf of existential terror I feel whenever considering my own demise.

The immortality of game characters, expressed by extra lives and continues and rezzing, satisfies one of the oldest human dreams - the defeat of death. Even games with limited lives allow resurrections by way of resetting.

In my future, beyond the Singularity, humans will be able to transfer their consciousness to physical avatars and enact countless scenarios without fear of the end. The only death to fear will be, maybe, the sun's red star bloat or the Big Crunch (or Big Chill, what have you).

Every so often permadeath is mentioned in conjunction with games as a good way to ratchet up tension and make things meaningful. Not for me. There is no desire on my part to even simulate the anxiety that winking out of existence engenders. Permadeath reminds me too much of games like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, strikingly difficult ordeals, the likes of which are not so much emotionally affecting as fucking stressful.

Hell, I don't even like timed levels or instant-failure sneak missions.

I can understand the sentiment, though. The drive to exploit such a basic facet of human emotional psychology could make for a powerful game.

In most cases strict death penalties will be considered hardcore fare, pure fiero. At one point I attempted a game design that required avatar death, which would alter the next character created and so on. But the problem with those kind of workarounds is that you can't diminish the finality of permadeath without altering the emotional impact.

I've thought about something similar for MMOs, a way to end the endgame (can it really be an endgame if it doesn't end?). Perhaps tracking your character's history and using it to affect the options for your next character, and so on and so forth.

I left City of Heroes because the debt incurred from death became too much of an annoyance. I couldn't figure out why they thought extending the grind was a good idea. Death was both negligible and increasingly unbearable - a losing combination.

World of Warcraft, on the other hand, took most of the sting from death. Blizzard's method for handling death was a great design point. Upon death, you can either return to your corpse from a graveyard in order to rez with no penalties (which is a variable proposition), or you can bring your body to you by paying the angel in the graveyard and incur penalties. While I almost always did the cadaver hotfoot, it was nice to have another option. Especially if I wanted to logoff posthaste.

When I think of videogame death, I end up thinking back to my least favorite moments of yesteryear. Sure, that Contra code is now grade-A nostalgia, but I needed that damn code to wring even a bit of enjoyment from the title. What would Metroid have been without progress codes? Would Zelda have been such a breakout if it hadn't included a save chip? Games have progressed further and further away from Game Over.

Isn't that what we're all looking for?

The permanent Game On?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Return of the Brewmeisters

Yesterday I talked about
a piece of PSP homebrew called SMOOVE. The author of the program, Martin Wisniowski, sent me a little note to thank me for the link and inform me of the program's home on the Internet. Do check it out if you're so inclined.

Thomas from Mile Zero wrote to suggest that the DS might be a more interesting proposition than the PSP: " There's a DS sequencer that I'm more interested in, what with the touch screen interface and all."

I'm intrigued as well. Having a lower screen with rack effects, the fun of twisting little knobs with the stylus or waveform editing, then being able to swap the screens to play fill-in-the-blank with beats sounds like heaven. Plus, there is the advantage of a built-in microphone. Gimme a sampler and looper, let me loop an effect to a virtual record spinning on the touch screen and then scritch-scratch on that bad boy. Or how about this: Where is the damn DS remake of Mario Paint?

Duncan wrote to tell me: "PSP has lost. Why bother with the trouble of fighting Sony's anti-homebrew firmware updates?" And then goes on to suggest a DS with a MAX Media Dock, which supports homebrew. Also, his Round Table Post is a good evisceration of the PSP and Sony in general.

I can definitely see the merit in Duncan's arguments. It seems like Sony has a machinegun aimed directly at its feet, with finger firmly pressing the trigger.

It's small consolation that enterprising hackers will bust through every firmware update. Eventually the challenge of sorting out compatible apps must grow tedious - with new games requiring updates before playing, the choice between some promising homebrew or a commercial game like Metal Gear is a regrettable no-contest.

And while Nintendo hasn't bent over backward for homebrew, its position of general disinterest is preferable to Sony's adversarial stance.

For a rundown of DS homebrew options, check out this article from 4-color rebellion.

I'm hoping to pick up a DS Lite when they drop. Fingers crossed that they haven't done anything to restrict homebrew.

And then, if all goes well . . .


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Brew Your Own

Having bought a PSP
, I find myself wishing dearly that Sony wouldn't act like such a spectacular dick as regards homebrew.

I realize that a large portion of homebrew consists of emulators which allow people to play 20 year old games that nobody in their right mind would purchase anymore. Personally, I don't give a shit that large corporations are pissed off because they aren't receiving money from someone else's labor in perpetuity. Boo-hoo.

Honestly, though, I really don't care all too much about the battle between whether or not playing the original NARC now falls under "fair use" -- I'd rather be not playing NARC.

What I'm really looking for, homebrew-wise, are interesting, useful little freeware apps. In particular, I'd like to see a simple music program, something akin to the MTV Music Generator (don't laugh, it was surprisingly flexible and the control scheme felt natural) - maybe something like this, though I won't vouch for that file until I check it out. Hell, with a decent microphone attachment I could use it as a sampler.

What I'm looking for is something exactly like this. Annoying site to navigate, but the feature set is spot the fuck on. BAM! Mile Zero, why have you not mentioned this before? I care not if you own a PSP.

The PSP Sequencer looks like a necessary acquisition as well. Dammit, now I have to hunt down a reasonably-priced 2 GB mem card.

I'm also checking out the Portable Meditation Engine (second from the bottom of the page). This is pretty much your standard binaural generator, complete claptrap, naturally. "Entraining" brainwaves and rubbish like that, but I'm a sucker for nonsense. And tones. Fear my enlightenment.

You can find some mini office suites, as well, and AIM style programs (which I'll probably check out once the keyboard attachment drops).

Or take a look at LUA SMOOVE, a tile editor, which could be cool functionality for a very indie developer (warning: you need a version of Lua Player to run this program).

There are a few other interesting apps, most of them in rough stages. I can't help but feel that some projects get delayed every time Sony decides to update its firmware in order to shut out the homebrewers, even though the update will, inevitably, get cracked. In a way it's like the Cold War - that same stupid back-and-forth arms race; Or maybe the encryption/decryption struggle during WWII. Whatever.

I guess that, to gamers, supporting homebrew is a no-brainer. Whereas for an executive whose whole job is to sniff out money, homebrew smells like a loss.

As for emulators . . .

Colecovision? Intellivision?

That's just a gross misuse of nostalgia.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Faith as an Excuse

"One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the 21st century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns--about ethics, spiritual experience and the inevitability of human suffering--in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities--Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.--and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past."

-Sam Harris, An Atheist Manifesto

I was actually going to write
to Orcinus to elicit his opinion on the upcoming Left Behind game, but lo and behold, he has already taken it on.

The Left Behind game is interesting because it is such overt propaganda. This bothers me, even though I'll probably play the game anyway.

The reason I see a substantial difference between a game like this and, say, GTA is that to my knowledge Rockstar has not yet come out in favor of carjackings and homicide.

The Left Behind series, on the other hand, is part of a greater movement to actually change the political and social situation in America (and the world, no doubt) by appealing to a violent, evangelical millenarianism. It is a backwards movement that is anti-woman, repressive, fundamentalist and fascist.

That said, I doubt this game will draw in lots of new followers, if any. I even doubt that it will affect the children already being indoctrinated by this eschatonic bullshit. Why? Because there are other forces at work that go hand in hand with the novels, movies and videogames - social forces that are so much stronger than the media. This kind of propaganda can be a way to bolster a mindset, but without other factors - indoctrination by parents, churches, social groups - it ends up being just a game (not to denigrate that term).

And like so many forms of propaganda, it is not so much a seed to grow a mental state as it is a reflection of someone's mental reality. People believe in an oncoming conflict, even if they have to bring it about themselves, and what they produce will reflect that internal state.

I have yet to encounter any hate-mongering public figures who developed their hatred and racism from videogaming. Sure, we'll start to see more and more bigotry in games, because games are now a part of our greater cultural landscape. But those same bigots will still print up pamphlets, write blogs, hold recruitment rallies and use every tool available. This is how propagandists work. The only way to stop them is to ban the use of every single medium. Y'know, revoke that freedom of expression that Dick Cheney finds so irksome.

As for the Left Behind game somehow training Christian warriors . . . I'll go up against the guy who clicked a mouse all day versus the guy who went to some compound up in Michigan and shot an AR-15 all day.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Blu Moon Rising

I've been thinking
about the PS3.

Fail? Succeed?

I don't think we're going to see Playstation do the Dreamcast Nosedive. As for the launch, it'll be chaotic and people will pay way too much, thousands of dollars above that measly 600 dollar suggested price and the machines will break and catch on fire and possibly kill everyone you love. That's how launches go. The games will suck - we'll see hastily slapped-together new titles, stale ports of 360 titles, a bunch of shoddy sports games and a few puzzle games possibly involving tile-shifting.

I've been trying to figure out the value of the Blu-Ray player. There are positives and negatives - plus lots and lots of unknowns.

Blu-Ray is fast and stores just an absolute mind-boggling amount of information. At least until the next format comes along. The problem is that Nintendo and Microsoft don't give a shit. They've decided they don't need lots of storage space on discs.

Which means that if a game company is making a game for all three next-gen systems, they aren't going to do much significant with that space. There are certainly changes they could make, but they'll probably look for simple, cheap extras.

Region-free has been one justification, they can store all localization files on one disc, and that will be compelling - for some. I don't import, but being import-friendly could boost importing itself (I liked that the Sega Saturn supported import games).

I have a feeling that most developers will use the extra space for higher-res textures or sound. Not sure if that will get them to make the switch - especially if the games are more expensive than ones on the 360 or Wii.

I'm sure that eventually someone will decide how to use all that space - and I look forward to the fruit of that labor. Hell, I know most PC games are averaging about four gigs. Space can always be filled.

Sony may have an advantage depending on what movie and television studios adopt their format. This, I believe, is why Microsoft has already been talking about an HD-DVD add-on for the 360 that will not be used for gaming.

The TV studios have figured out exactly how much money there is to milk from consumers. I guarantee that if they switch to a higher-capacity format they'll find there is so much more money. They can charge almost the same amount for series while cutting manufacturing costs (though initial investments will no doubt be high).

I personally can't wait for the day where I can get two full seasons of the Simpsons on one disc.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

My God, What Have I Done

So I got a bonus
. Happily, I might add.

And I opened it to find the guvmint took about half of the damn thing. Half. To pay for tax cuts for the rich, a shitty war and other stuff. Like the rampant corruption. Can't forget the rampant corruption. Sim sim, sala-liberaltalkingpoints.

Rather then spend all of the money wisely, using it to pay off the majority of my debt, I have decided to be irresponsible (as much as I can - I'm usually responsible to the point of boring). I'll only pay off half of my debt. That'll show 'em!

I picked up a PSP and Liberty City Stories. I'm a fool. The type of fool who can only be placated with good old-fashioned mob violence.

I'm also making a list of future must-have titles, some already out and some due later this year. Here they are:

-Daxter (hoping to pick it up used and cheap)
-Metal Gear: Portable Ops (I'm gonna borrow AC!D from a friend)
-Vice City Stories (natch)
-Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters (the original trilogy of this series is on my list of greatest platformers ever)
-Lumines (I've heard it's pretty great - my wife would probably love this one)
-Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix (the only 'sport' game I'll play - until there's another Super Dodge Ball)
-Silent Hill: Origins (I think I like the idea of the Silent Hill games better than the games themselves, so I'm sure to try this one out . . . and hate it)

That's it for now. There are a few titles I might pick up if I see them discounted. Field Commander got good reviews - if I get in the mood for a tactical game it'll get on my list. What I'd really like to see, though, are more RPGs. Aside from a few Japanese style Legend of the Eternal Sword Hero Saga Monster generic titles, nothing's caught my eye.

Anyway, spending money only leaves you hollow and empty inside. So send all your extra money to me.

It's a burden I'm willing to shoulder.

Something in the Air

, there's a Carnival of Gamers in town.

I've got an excuse or two for not participating, but nothing particularly substantial. I found out about the Carnival at 11:34 PM the day submissions were due. There wasn't time to write anything new and the old stuff just didn't cut the mustard for me.

Do check it out, though.